University of Toledo Football 2016: Rockets with a Glaring Red Weakness?
Toledo had a terrific 10-2 2015, capping the year off with a solid 32-17 bowl game drubbing of the Temple Owls, a card carrying member of the Power 5. Yes, the Rockets failed to clear the NIU Huskie hurdle game for the umpteenth time in a row, losing in week #10 (at home no less), costing them a chance at competing for the conference crown, but this will be the year, right? Let's take a look.
The Rockets' 2011-2015 head coach, Matt Campbell, made the P5 jump to Iowa State. Offensive coordinator Jason Candle has been promoted to head coach, so don't expect much in the way of offensive hiccups as a result.
New OC Brian Wright had good success elevating the offense at Florida Atlantic, though the FAU offense struggled last year in part due to key injuries early in the season.
Former DC Jon Heacock followed coach Campbell to Cyclone country, paving the way for Kent State DC Brian George to fill the vacancy. If you know anything about Kent football, you know that defense is the ONLY thing they've done well there recently. Well poached, Toledo.
A completely rebuilt offensive line for the 2015 campaign was a cause for concern, but the new line played pretty well. My rankings had the Rockets with the 47th best run offense and 79th best pass offense last year. QB Phillip Ely started off the year struggling but turned it around after the first month, finishing with his best game in the bowl win. 2014 starting QB Logan Woodside will retake the starters' reins for the graduated Ely. Numbers and history suggest the QB play will be about the same for Toledo in 2016. Woodside let Toledo to a 2014 bowl victory against 2016 week #1 opponent Arkansas State, a psychological plus to start the season.
I rate Toledo's run game to be a little better than last year. The offensive line is back, as well as the Two Headed Terrorizing Tandem of running backs Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson, who accounted for more than 70% of Toledo's rush yards last year. Returning as well is Damion Jones-Moore, another solid contributer at RB.
Okay, here's where the Rockets glaring red weakness might, or might not, materialize. Defense was the strength of the Toledo team last year, ranking 22nd against the run and 40th against the pass.
In addition to the coaching changes, they're losing a lot of returning production. My numbers have them returning only 26% of their defensive line tackles, 64% of their linebacking tackles, and 44% of their secondary tackles, returning a low 45.1% of their tackles overall. That ranks them 8th worst in FBS by my numbers.
While experience will be thinner across their defensive units, each level does return some key experience. DL Hester and Stepec step up, LBs Coleman and Woodley are the men in the middle, while safety DeJuan Rogers will anchor the air defense. Pardon the "anchoring the air" oxymoron, lol.
Still, I've given Toledo some unhealthy defensive regression deductions across the board while preparing my projections. I've dinged them about as hard as any other team, considering that they don't have the recruiting to quickly make up for lost "over achieving versus your recruiting numbers" production.
Do the coaching and player losses add up to Toledo being significantly worse than the 10-2 team they were last year? (The 10 wins includes the bowl game, after they had a week #1 game against Stony Brook cancelled for weather, I believe it was. So 10-2 would have been their most likely regular season record as well)
The most recent season wins line for Toledo from South Point in Vegas had the Over/Under at 6.5 wins, which is saying that Toledo is going to backslide into a middle of the road MAC team. My numbers still project them to be amongst the conference elite, in spite of the added defensive regression factored in.
The MAC league media just voted Toledo to finish 2nd in the division behind Western Michigan, which lines up with my numbers. I project Toledo to go unbeaten in conference play until a final week loss versus also conference-unbeaten Western Michigan on the Broncos home turf. I project Toledo's other two losses of the season to be at Arkansas State in week #1 (a winnable game, by all means) and in week #5 at BYU (a tougher spot, but not unthinkable).
Back to back road games at Akron and NIU will be tough, but those teams are flawed enough that I project Toledo to win them both by near a touchdown. So yes, Toledo does play most of their tougher games on the road this season, which isn't beneficial. The flipside to that? What remains for their home games is a weaker lineup of teams, raising their win floor for the season.
Home games against Fresno, Maine, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Ohio and Ball State should all be wins. Yes, CMU still has a good passing game and Ohio should rebound after an injury-plagued season, but neither should upset Toledo at home. Bowling Green lost almost of their skill players on offense, as well as their coaches.
Of those 6 home games, I'm willing to commit to a 5 game win floor for Toledo. Minimum -- I think they win all 6. A game at Eastern Michigan and now we're at 6 or7 wins. A split at worst in the @Akron and @NIU games and Toledo is at 7 or 8 wins, already clearing the 6.5 wins Over/Under. The projected losses at ARST, BYU and WMU are all winnable freerolls, then -- a chance to steal a game as an underdog to potentially offset a loss they suffered as a favorite.
With a projected raw W/L record of 9-3 and an 8.5 wins projection when converting margin of victory projections to chance of winning games percentages, Toledo, to me, offers solid value on the Over 6.5 season wins.
Offensive continuity should keep them in every game that their rebuilding defense will potentially hamper them in. Toledo will only face one MAC team with an above average run defense from last year, Akron. And Akron loses a TON of returning tackles, even more than Toledo, returning only 38%. The table is set for Toledo to run over a weak slate of MAC run defenses.